The Spokane Tribe of Indians has received $200,000 to study whether salmon would thrive above Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council approved the funding last week for the habitat assessment. The work is part of an investigation into whether salmon and steelhead could be successfully reintroduced above the tall dams, which were built without fish ladders decades ago.
Reintroducing salmon above the two dams has been a priority for Upper Columbia tribes, who say the salmon’s return would reconnect the tribes with their culture and ceremonies while benefiting the region economically through sport fishing.
Salmon migration to the Upper Columbia and its Spokane, Kettle and Sanpoil river tributaries was blocked first by Grand Coulee’s construction in the 1930s, and later by Chief Joseph Dam, which was built downstream in the 1950s.
Funding for the habitat study was approved 6-2, with council members from Washington, Oregon and Montana supporting it, and Idaho members voting against it.
“The Idaho members do not support reintroduction of sea-run migrating salmon above Grand Coulee Dam,” said Bill Booth, an Idaho member and the council’s vice chairman.
Booth cited the technical complexity of getting fish through the dams and the potential cost to the region’s electric ratepayers.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is charged with mitigating impacts to fish and wildlife from the region’s federal hydropower dams. Council members haven’t voted on whether to support salmon reintroduction to the Upper Columbia but agreed to investigate the possibility back in 2014.
A draft study out this summer will look at fish passage above other tall dams, including design options and potential costs.
The Spokane Tribe’s study will be released in 2017, and will examine habitat suitability for salmon in about 200 river miles south of the U.S.-Canadian border. The study is expected to cost more than $200,000, and the tribe will partner with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, other tribes and federal agencies on the work.